Biden Announces First Broadband Grant Winners

UPDATED: First $182 million in grants going to projects in 17 states

Vice President Joe Biden used the setting of a fabrication
plant in Dawsonville, Ga., to announce the first winning broadband
stimulus money bidders, but the government didn't deliver much product.

There were only 18 winning bidders in 17 states for a total
of $182 million in broadband stimulus funds out of a couple billion dollars
that needs to be handed out as soon as possible. The balance of the first round
of winners will be announced on a rolling schedule between now and February,
according to NTIA.

At about $10 million apiece, the grants were a small
fraction of that and there were no big-name players among the initial winners.

Most of the just-announced winners are for "middle
mile" projects ($121 million to improve connections to communities, with
$51.4 million going to last-mile projects that connect end-users like homes,
schools and hospitals. Another $7.3 million went to expand computer center
capacity in libraries community centers and colleges, with another $2.4 million
to promote adoption.

Projects in Georgia,
Maine, New York
and South Dakota got the middle mile money
from NTIA, while the Department of Agriculture's RUS program gave out middle
and last-mile money (grants and loans) to Alaska,
Hawaii, Colorado,
Nebraska, Michigan,
New Hampshire, New York,
Ohio, Oklahoma.

NTIA awarded the adoption money to New
Mexico and Washington state, and
the computer center funding to Arizona, Minnesota, Washington, Arizona and Massachusetts.

Massachusetts legislators
led by Sen. John Kerry were quick to ally themselves with the potential
broadband benefits to their constituents, pointing out that Boston had received $1.9 million in computer center
money.  Kerry called it "a significant step toward bridging the
digital divide" and said it would give Boston residents "critical access to
computers and new training." 

Free Press had nice things to say about the first awards,
calling the announcement "a welcome holiday gift for the thousands of
Americans living in these areas that have yet to know the transformative
benefits of broadband technology," and praising the emphasis on middle
mile projects. "We are especially pleased to see the Commerce Department's
emphasis on middle-mile grants -- an often overlooked piece of the broadband
puzzle that is essential to ensuring that consumers in these areas have access
to affordable broadband services that can scale as demand grows," said
Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott in a statement.

Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, was also pleased,
though said she hoped the rural focus of the first round of broadband grants
would be broadened. "The first wave of grants will help Internet
connectivity in rural areas.  We look forward to projects that will aid
urban areas as well," she said.  One
observer who was underwhelmed by what he suggested were a few drops in too few
buckets was Dan Hays, telecom partner in PRTM, a D.C. management consulting
firm. "The pace and the magnitude of the awards that have been released
has been extremely disappointing. It is extremely small and extremely

NTIA and RUS have a total of $7.2 billion to give out in two
rounds of funding ($4.7 for NTIA, another $2.5 billion in grants and loans from

While Biden was talking about the grant money going to a Georgia project, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
was in Maine
to plug the $25.4 million that state was getting for infrastructure.

In addition, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is scheduled
to go to Ohio
this week to promote the $2.4 million it got for its smart energy grid.

In announcing the first winning projects, Biden related them
to job creation, education, and global competitiveness, saying rural
communities had just as much going for them as big cities, but needed the tools
that broadband could provide to help them compete.